Bublcam: a successful hardware crowdfunding campaign
Name of project: Bublcam: 360° Camera Technology for Everyone
Type of production/project: Hardware/Software Design
Campaign period: November 5, 2013 to December 14, 2013 (39 days)
Amount raised: CAN$346,122
Number of Contributors: 808
Average Contribution: CAN$428
Many conversations about virtual reality focus on head-mounted displays, such as the Rift from Oculus or Google Cardboard, but much less is said about the cameras that can capture 360-degree images.
Wanting to make virtual reality recording available to all, Toronto’s Bubl Technology launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2013 to fund the production of the Bublcam. This baseball-sized camera takes spherical videos and photos, streams live content, includes access to the Bubl Cloud Service for media storage and management and is compatible with VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard.
Crowdfunding for market validation
The month-long Bublcam campaign was launched November 5, 2013, on Kickstarter. Why turn to crowdfunding? “It was the fastest and best way for Bubl to know if anyone else was truly as excited about the potential for our products,” says Sean Ramsay, CEO of Bubl Technology. To build the launch strategy, the Canadian start-up relied on the help of a PR company as well as its CEO’s personal experience in digital marketing.
Market validation came swiftly as the Bublcam received support from hundreds of backers. But while the campaign was a great success, quickly breaking through the initial target of $100,000, the first cameras were only shipped two years later. Several technical issues delayed the initial shipment and soon after the campaign the Bubl team was faced with a new challenge: keeping its backers updated and happy.
Regular updates: the key to keeping the momentum despite unsuspected delays
“We wanted to have the Bublcams to all our backers for the summer ; but more than that, we want to ship only the best camera and software technology suite possible. In order to accommodate the required changes, software advancements, and manufacturing duration, we had to shift our ship date” wrote Bubl in its 21st Kickstarter update.
To manage and mitigate unsuspected technical delays, Bubl focused on writing regular updates, keeping its backers well informed. In November 2014, the company actually hired a marketing communications manager to keep the conversation going with its different communities. In two years, 50 updates were published on the campaign’s Kickstarter page. Several of these updates featured detailed information about the technical issues that the team was facing, like problems surrounding image calibration.
The start-up also made sure to keep its backers involved in the development and production process. This helped Bubl “understand what people were looking for and how we could deliver exactly the product people needed,” says Ramsay.
Lessons from the campaign
Looking back on the campaign, Bubl says it would have kept it alive longer than one month, as in hindsight the company could have used more financing. As explains CEO Sean Ramsay, “It is very easy to assume you have the required funds when you actually have to look for more capital to accomplish your goals.”
Ramsay would also have liked to have a better understanding of the manufacturing needs. His advice for hardware start-ups looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign: make sure you take into account the manufacturing costs and timing as well as the issues around software when it is involved in the product’s ecosystem.
But in the end, Bublcam’s first shipment couldn’t have been timelier: while the product was getting ready for full-scale production, YouTube and Facebook added support for 360-degree video uploads and the first consumer virtual reality headsets arrived on the market.